BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 13, 2016–Eight months after securing its third consecutive victory at the polls, the administration of Prime Minister Dean Barrow is facing its worst political crisis.
It all began with the gruesome beheading of Pastor Llewellyn “Lue” Lucas in July and the release of the explosive Auditor General’s Special Report into the Passport, Visa and Nationality Departments in August, and most recently the government has been faced with industrial action by the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU) in its efforts to advance a good governance agenda.
In three months, the Barrow administration has survived several protest marches led through its streets, and it has withstood the shutdown of schools countrywide, but now looming overhead is a national shutdown of businesses and the possible collapse of a senate inquiry that many Belizeans had clamored for.
At its special membership meeting held on Wednesday night, the Belize Chamber of Commerce voted that its Senator, Markhelm “Mark” Jude Lizarraga, would only participate in the Senate Special Select Committee if its composition is modified, allowing for the Government to have only one representative, instead of the two that Government now has.
The Executive of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at its meeting, reiterated that at no time did it publicly express support for the composition of the Senate Committee, in which the government would be allowed two representatives while the other parties would only be given one.
Furthermore, it was voted that Lizarraga would only participate on that committee if the terms of reference were strengthened.
At its meeting Wednesday night, the Chamber argued that the terms of reference in the motion passed by Church Senator Pastor Ashley Rocke on September 30 were limited, as it only allowed for the persons named in the audit — Ministers of Government, CEOs, the Director of Immigration and public officers in the Minister of Immigration and Nationality — to be called to public hearings held by the Senate Special Select Committee.
Those terms of reference are very limited when compared to Opposition’s motion which the Chamber had amended and supported, which allowed for anyone with information relevant to the inquiry to be called to the hearings and for a special budget allocation to last the duration of the Senate inquiry.
However, that motion, which was submitted long in advance, was never tabled because the acting Senate President, Minister Senator Carla Barnett, introduced Pastor Rocke’s motion first, even though it had only been submitted the day before the Senate meeting.
On this matter, of the 124 persons eligible to vote at the Chamber’s special meeting, 82 voted for Lizarraga’s exit from the committee until it is reconfigured.
Efforts are at this time underway for Lizarraga to reintroduce a motion on the composition and terms of reference for the Senate Special Select Committee.
Also, 79 of the 124 persons in attendance at the Chamber’s special meeting voted for a one-day shut-down of businesses nationwide in support of the BNTU’s good governance agenda.
The measures for good governance, mainly the appointment of the 13th senator, the reconstitution of the Public Accounts Committee and the Integrity Commission, have been long overdue, according to the Chamber.
At its meeting, the Chamber revealed that the law which enables the appointment of the 13th Senator has already been passed. However, the Prime Minister has failed to issue a commencement date for the act, which the Chamber believes he can issue at any time.
In relation to the Integrity Commission, the Prime Minister has time and time again said that he has not been able to constitute it because he has been unable to locate a chartered accountant who is willing to serve on it.
However, the Chamber has taken the initiative to write the Institute of Chartered Accountants to invite the submissions of names of persons who would be willing to serve on the commission. Upon receiving those names, the Chamber will give the Prime Minister no more than ten days to constitute the Integrity Commission.
In a letter to the Prime Minister dated June 23, 2016, the Chamber indicated its acceptance of the Government’s proposal on the reconstitution of the Public Accounts Committee, which would give the Government six representatives, the social partners three and the Opposition two.
However, it has been over three months since the Chamber wrote the Prime Minister and he has not introduced legislation to effect the reconstitution of the committee.
The Chamber will write the Prime Minister and specify deadlines by which it must adopt its good governance agenda. If the government defaults, the Chamber will proceed with the shutdown of businesses countrywide. However, the date for that proposed shutdown will be revealed after the Chamber consults with its membership.